March 21st, 2014
10:00 AM ET
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America's Test Kitchen is a real 2,500 square foot test kitchen located just outside of Boston that is home to more than three dozen full­time cooks and product testers. Our mission is simple: to develop the absolute best recipes for all of your favorite foods. To do this, we test each recipe 30, 40, sometimes as many as 70 times, until we arrive at the combination of ingredients, technique, temperature, cooking time, and equipment that yields the best, most­ foolproof recipe. America’s Test Kitchen's online cooking school is based on nearly 20 years of test kitchen work in our own facility, on the recipes created for Cook's Illustrated magazine, and on our two public television cooking shows.

Nobody feels good about their culinary skills after baking up a batch of lumpy, leaden, lopsided biscuits. We’re here to help you put those sad, squat, doughy days behind you with our recipe for unfailingly light, fluffy, tender, flavorful and perfectly shaped biscuits. We have a few helpful hints and 12 key steps that will guarantee you success.

Essential equipment:
As great as our recipe is, you’ll also need the right tools for the jobs to achieve biscuit perfection.

Biscuit Cutters: Makeshift cutters such as juice glasses produce rounds that rise unevenly (the rounded lip compresses the edges of the cut biscuits). Use biscuit cutters. Our favorite? In our testing of biscuit cutters, we liked this $15 stainless steel set from Ateco the best (available on Amazon).

A Rolling Pin: A tapered wooden rolling pin offers more control than other pins. We tested 9 rolling pins to find our favorite: the J.K. Adams Plain Maple Rolling Dowel (available on Amazon).

Important techniques:
Mixing: Combine the dry ingredients with the butter and shortening in the food processor. Otherwise, your warm hands can melt the fat, which results in greasy biscuits. Gently stir in the buttermilk by hand, however. That way the food processor won’t overwork the dough and leave you with tough biscuits.

Kneading: Old cookbooks, "The Fannie Farmer Baking Book" among them, instruct cooks to knead biscuit dough. This activates the gluten in the flour and helps the biscuits rise. Many modern baking books stress that kneading makes for tough biscuits. We say knead gently: Don’t overdo it, but definitely do it.

Don't forget:
To Test the Powder: Baking powder begins to lose potency after six months. Put 2 teaspoons into a cup of water: If it foams and fizzes immediately, you’re good to go. If the reaction is delayed or weak, buy a new can.

To Preheat the Oven: Don’t neglect this. Biscuits need an initial blast of high heat to rise properly, and it takes most ovens 15 minutes to get up to temperature (you might also check your oven temperature using an inexpensive oven thermometer).

To Measure the Flour Properly: Use the dip-and-sweep method for accuracy: Dip a measuring cup into the flour, scoop up the flour and level it with the flat side of a knife. If you pack flour into the cup using the side of the container or spoon it in, you could end up with significantly more or less flour than called for. One cup all-purpose flour correctly measured weighs 5 ounces. Spooned into the cup, it weighs just 4.5 ounces, and packed in, it can weigh as much as 5.75 ounces.

Making the biscuits:
And now, without further ado, our 12 steps to perfect biscuits:

1. Chill the fat
Chill the butter and shortening for 30 minutes. They will chill faster cut into pieces.
WHY? So the cold fat will melt in the oven (not in the mixing bowl), creating flaky biscuits.

2. Prep the pan and oven
Heat the oven to 450 degrees. Meanwhile, line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
WHY? To keep the biscuits from sticking to the sheet.

3. Mix the dry ingredients
To distribute the dry ingredients evenly, pulse them in the food processor.
WHY? So you can then mix in the fat quickly, keeping it cold until the biscuits bake.

4. Add the fat gradually
Scatter the fat over the dry ingredients and pulse until the mix resembles coarse meal.
WHY? So the pats of fat melt in the oven, creating pockets of steam, which make for flaky biscuits.

5. Stir in the liquid by hand
Dump the mixture into a bowl and stir in the buttermilk by hand. Stop when the dough forms a uniform texture.
WHY? A food processor would over-mix the dough and produce tough biscuits.

6. Knead the dough briefly
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead gently.
WHY? Done with a light hand, kneading develops the gluten. Result? Tall biscuits.

7. Roll the dough out evenly
Using a rolling pin, evenly roll the dough into a 9-inch round that’s about 3/4-inch thick.
WHY? You do want uniform biscuits, don’t you?

8. Use a floured cutter
Dip the biscuit cutter into flour before stamping out each biscuit.
WHY? So that the dough won’t stick to the cutter, creating lopsided biscuits.

9. Handle the scraps gently
Gather dough scraps and pat into a circle. Careful - don’t overwork the dough. Stamp out the remaining biscuits.
WHY? Because rough hands make tough biscuits.

10. Flip the biscuits
Place the biscuits upside down on the baking sheet and put in the oven.
WHY? With the flat underside now on top, the biscuits will rise evenly.

11. Rotate the pan and reduce the heat
Bake the biscuits for five minutes and then rotate pan and turn the oven down.
WHY? In the cooler oven, the biscuits will cook through before they over-brown.

12. Eat 'em hot
Cool the biscuits on a wire rack for five minutes, but not much more. Enjoy them warm, preferably with a pat of butter.
WHY? Because they’ll beat a cold biscuit any day.

Light and Fluffy Biscuits
light and fluffy biscuits
(Makes 12 biscuits)

Note: If you don’t have buttermilk, there’s no need to run to the store. Make a substitute by stirring 1 tablespoon plus 3/4 teaspoon lemon juice or white vinegar into 1 1/4 cups milk. Let the mixture stand at room temperature for 10 minutes until thickened.

Ingredients:
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
4 tablespoons vegetable shortening
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/4 cups buttermilk

Instructions:
1. Cut butter and shortening into 1/2-inch pieces and refrigerate until chilled, about 30 minutes.

2. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 450 degrees. Line baking sheet with parchment paper. Pulse flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and baking soda in food processor until combined. Add chilled butter and shortening and pulse until mixture resembles coarse meal.

3. Transfer flour mixture to large bowl. Stir in buttermilk until combined. Turn dough onto lightly floured surface and knead briefly, 8 to 10 times, to form smooth, cohesive ball. Roll dough into 9-inch circle, about 3/4-inch thick.

4. Using 2 1/2-inch biscuit cutter dipped in flour, cut out rounds and arrange upside down on prepared baking sheet. Gather remaining dough and pat gently into 3/4-inch-thick circle. Cut rounds from dough and transfer to baking sheet.

5. Bake until biscuits begin to rise, about 5 minutes, then rotate pan and reduce oven temperature to 400 degrees. Bake until golden brown, 10 to 12 minutes more. Transfer to wire rack and let cool 5 minutes. Serve warm.

To make ahead: Cut rounds can be refrigerated, covered with plastic wrap, for 1 day. To finish, heat oven to 450 degrees and proceed with step 5.

More from America's Test Kitchen:
The Cook’s Illustrated Baking Book
Cook’s Country TV: Fried Chicken Episode
5 Buttermilk Questions You Were Too Embarrassed to Ask
More Baked Goods: Sticky Buns with Pecans
Taste-Testing Strawberry Preserves

More from Eatocracy:
The biscuit recipe that can't be beat
5@5 – It's all (biscuits) and gravy, baby
Biscuit shops roll out across the country



soundoff (39 Responses)
  1. Soakee

    I have a biscuit recipe (kept in my head, not written down) which has been refined over 80 years (started by my grandmother, refined by my mother, and perfected by me). It contains a couplde of secret (staple) ingredients (small amounts) which mean the difference between golden-brown hockey pucks and "little pillows of heaven" (as my daughter calls them). I won't provide the recipe, but some of my tips are as follows:

    Cast iron pans just burn the biscuit bottoms (and who DOESN'T hate burned bottoms?) – use an aluminum baking sheet or vertical-wall pie pan. Crispy-bottomed biscuits are just plain WRONG. Rolling the dough with a rolling pin compresses the dough too much; better to pat out the dough with bare hands. Press your thumb into the top center of each buscuit (about a quarter inch); this will even out the rise. Do not just double everything to make a bigger batch; doubling everything NEVER works – make biscuits in small batches with no more than 13 buscuits in a batch. The brand of flour makes a HUGE difference-stick with a certain southern brand named after a lady (it's up to you to figure out which brand to which I'm referring). Baking powder IS NOT necessary (again, it depends on your recipe). Cream biscuits are good, but mine are better (and isn't better what really counts?).

    March 24, 2014 at 4:18 pm |
  2. Kitty

    cast iron is best for just about everything, and with biscuits..essential. No other method comes close. I find all my cast iron cookware at flea markets, or antique shops. Come to think of it, I don't own a single "modern" pan

    March 24, 2014 at 6:26 am |
  3. bwian

    screw all that cutting. james beard's cream biscuits are the best. in place of the butter/shortening, use heavy cream (40% is best). so much easier and quicker (less labor intensive) and the taste is like heaven on the palate.

    March 24, 2014 at 1:17 am |
  4. Cheryl

    Well seasoned cast iron means dirty–you cannot wash it with soap and water. Personally, I don't think it is sad that I would not put my good baked goods on a dirty piece of metal. Yuck.

    March 23, 2014 at 4:45 pm |
    • Jack

      Well-seasoned cast iron does not mean dirty. Cast iron can be cleaned with hot water and a stiff brush.

      March 24, 2014 at 4:37 am |
    • Kitty

      Cast iron pans when seasoned properly can be washed with a mild dish soap, I do it all the time. They take a little more thought and care, but it is well worth the effort. I would rather cook in a pan that isn't coated in teflon or some other chemicals.

      March 24, 2014 at 6:31 am |
    • Cassie

      Cheryl "Well seasoned cast iron means dirty" Then you don't know what well-seasoned means. Go here and be informed:

      http://www.realsimple.com/food-recipes/cooking-tips-techniques/preparation/cleaning-seasoning-cast-iron-skillet-10000001178519/

      March 24, 2014 at 7:08 am |
  5. Karl

    One thing I heard on The Splendid Table was that northern flours are made with hard winter wheat, which is higher in gluten, and sourthern flours are made with summer wheat, which is lower in gluten, resulting in a more tender biscuit.

    March 23, 2014 at 11:28 am |
    • pb

      Soft Winter wheat is lower in protein, which is essential for making light and full biscuits and you should never knead the dough. The dough should be handled as little as possible. However, wrote this article must not be an experienced make of biscuits.

      March 29, 2014 at 11:29 pm |
  6. kathy

    Just made these haphazardly. Still turned out good. Skipped some steps. All good though.
    Biscuits are not healthy. But we have to indulge occasionaly. Nostalgia :)

    March 23, 2014 at 9:35 am |
  7. Spendlove

    Drop biscuits.. that's where it's at.

    March 23, 2014 at 1:20 am |
    • *

      Bisquick is where it's at.

      March 24, 2014 at 11:24 am |
  8. rs1201

    sounds delicious....one question though....so, how much weight do you gain after eating a couple of those biscuits? and how much clogging of your arteries does all this fat do to you? not worth it...I would probably take a small bite out of one and run back to the carrots...and more importantly continue fitting into my clothes!

    March 22, 2014 at 1:10 pm |
    • kATHY

      Why you looking at biscuit recipes? You know you want one ;)

      March 23, 2014 at 9:31 am |
    • NedFlanders

      if that's what's important to you, so be it. Looks are not as important as enjoying life to me. If I had to live the rest of my life eating healthy food, I don't think I would want to live all that long. To each his own.

      March 23, 2014 at 2:32 pm |
    • Roberto

      We all shall die, no matter how many carrots you eat……. that's a fact. Why not enjoy a bit of love. Hmmm, biscuits!

      March 23, 2014 at 9:25 pm |
    • Old Enough

      If eating healthy makes you live longer, so be it, The added years won't be the years when you are young an vibrant, they will be the years that you are drooling on the pillow in the nursing home. Live a little, enjoy life!

      March 24, 2014 at 1:05 pm |
    • Soakee

      With proper exercise you can eat anything you want. Including biscuits.

      March 24, 2014 at 4:30 pm |
  9. Ctrygrl

    These are not biscuits these are shortcakes! Way too much shortening and unless you are making shortcakes no biscuit recipe needs sugar. I suggest James Beard for a good recipe he uses all butter 1/3 cup to 2 cups of flour and certainly no sugar. Though parchment paper is nice and essential for cookies, a spray of Pam on a baking sheet works just fine for biscuits. I don't fault the directions though a little elaborate I have never found the need to turn the oven down or turn the baking sheet.

    March 22, 2014 at 10:33 am |
  10. Sherry from Alabama

    It's like making an omelet - it only takes practice. Once you have a great simple recipe like Kiim's above, just make a few batches, then make them regularly and you'll get the hang of it.

    March 22, 2014 at 9:46 am |
  11. -betsy

    Oh, thank you Ms. Kim. A southerner! White Lily flour!
    If one was raised properly south of the Mason-Dixon line, one knows that the Lady of the House always made the biscuits, no matter how many help she had. It was a matter of pride.
    If a young girl could not make a biscuit by the time that she was 12, there was something seriously wrong with her upbringing.
    Yes, I understand that things have changed (no thank you, Pillsbury), but there are some things that I too disagree with in this article.
    Biscuit cutters? Nonsense. I don't know what kind of "drinking glasses" you have, but mine work just fine. What the article has neglected to tell people is that one should not twist the glasses(or cutting utensils) when cutting out the dough, as this will cause uneven rising. Just like scones.
    DO NOT use a food processor. Just put the ingredients in a bowl, use a pastry cutter (or, like the old guard, a fork), and continue.
    If one cares to cut out round biscuits, carry on with the parchment-lined baking sheets. One can also just plain old greased- up muffin cups, and bake the biscuits in them. Or, for a smaller household, a greased round cake pan works well.
    Lastly – about the buttermilk – the taste of real buttermilk is totally different from soured milk. Not to say that soured milk is bad, it's just not the same. A common mistake, that too many people make.

    March 22, 2014 at 8:52 am |
  12. P.J.

    I think you all should invite me to your house so you can show me. Then we can sample. ;)

    March 22, 2014 at 8:43 am |
  13. The Enlightened Restauranteer

    Nobody makes better biscuits than Hardees. Nobody!!

    March 21, 2014 at 6:39 pm |
    • rachelletowne

      I agree. I used to make biscuits at Hardee's and this was not how it was done. This recipe has a lot more fat, less leavening, and using greased pans or parchment paper is totally unnecessary. With the amount of fat in this recipe the biscuits are swimming in their own fat anyway. Also "spacing them on the pan is silly. Snug those babies up so they are touching. The one commenter that said not to "twist" on the cut-out is also right on.

      March 22, 2014 at 7:35 pm |
    • readerpan

      Nope. Popeyes are better.

      March 23, 2014 at 10:37 pm |
    • Soakee

      Except me.

      March 24, 2014 at 4:20 pm |
  14. Kim

    Couple of things I would disagree with:

    1. Use a pastry cutter, not a food processor; you have more control over the dough, and less pieces and parts to clean.

    2. Bake on a cast iron pan – I have a flat round biscuit baker that is perfect – or a baking stone such as the Pampered Chef stones – not metal.

    3. Place your biscuits on your pan with sides touching – makes a huge difference in how high they rise.

    My recipe is also simpler – glad to share.

    2 cups self-rising White Lily flour
    3/4 stick cold butter
    1 cup buttermilk

    Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Cut butter into flour with a pastry cutter til texture is mealy. Stir in buttermilk just til blended. Put onto floured surface and knead jsut til smooth – 3 to 4 times, no more! Cut with a biscuit cutter and place onto your bakeware with sides touching. Bake at 450 degrees til golden brown – about 12 minutes.

    March 21, 2014 at 3:58 pm |
    • ANNIER

      I agree about the pastry cutter, AND the cast iron pan...Thank you for sharing your recipe; I plan to try it.

      March 21, 2014 at 7:34 pm |
    • shawn l

      No baking powder? They would be bricks.
      I agree with the cutter, and the fat should be ice cold, and the bowl should be ice cold. The flour should look like little pebbles after mixing in the fat.

      March 22, 2014 at 3:54 am |
      • Biskeet

        No baking powder because Kim's recipe uses self-rising flour

        March 22, 2014 at 5:24 am |
        • shawn l

          Ah I missed that part

          March 23, 2014 at 7:51 am |
    • Ctrygrl

      No thank you to self-rising flour. Unbleached flour preferably King Arthur. Glad to see people know not to twist the cutter. This has been interesting, it is gratifying to know so many people make their own biscuits. As one said "take that Pillsbury"

      March 22, 2014 at 10:39 am |
  15. JellyBean

    I'm going to try this. Thanks.

    March 21, 2014 at 12:16 pm |
    • JellyBean

      You gotta use parchment paper, it makes all the difference in the world.

      March 21, 2014 at 3:06 pm |
      • Kim

        If you have a well-seasoned cast iron pan or stone, no need for parchment....

        March 21, 2014 at 3:59 pm |
        • paulistano

          Yes, but since most people don't have well-seasoned cast iron pans or baking stones, parchment paper is a great alternative.

          March 21, 2014 at 5:39 pm |
        • linsea50

          Do most people really not have a cast iron skillet around? That's sad. They cook things incredibly well, both on the stovetop and in the oven. If I want proper corn bread, it's an absolute necessity.

          March 22, 2014 at 11:35 pm |

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